DataKind expanding to help more social good organizations use data to advance their work

A volunteer during one of DataKind’s DataDives. Photo from DataKind on Flickr.

Jake Porway is founder and executive director of DataKind, a nonprofit that connects social good organizations with leading data scientists to solve problems and inform decision-making. Related Link 

When we launched DataKind in 2011 we had big dreams about just how powerful data science could be in helping social change organizations around the world tackle huge issues such as health care, poverty and education. We were overwhelmed with interest from data scientists eager to use their skills to make a difference and social sector leaders eager to learn more about how data science could help them transform their work. We had ideas about how to bring these two groups of talented and passionate individuals together, but they were just ideas. Now, three years into our adventure, we’ve created a suite of programs designed to deliver powerful data science resources to mission-driven organizations.

We started out with weekend DataDives, our marathon-style events that help organizations do initial data analysis, exploration and prototyping. DataDives began as a proof of concept, perfect for testing whether data scientists would show up to donate their time or whether nonprofits were ready for the skills we could offer. The results exceeded all of our expectations. Volunteers showed up in full force and wanted to continue working with their nonprofits, and the organizations that showed up begged for more opportunities to work with data scientists.

This led us to develop our now signature program, the DataCorps, our long-term engagements that help organizations use data science to transform their work and their sector. We carefully scope these six- to nine-month engagements, hand-selecting the volunteer teams and then managing the projects to completion.

Most recently, when we launched five new volunteer-led chapters around the world, we took great care to provide the structure and support to allow our new global representatives to use and refine our model in their communities.

With this groundwork in place, we couldn’t be more excited for our second collaboration with Knight Foundation where we will continue to support the “Data-for-Good” movement that harnesses the power of data science in the service of humanity.

Our projected outcomes are audacious, but achievable.

  • We want to complete 50 new DataCorps projects with nonprofit organizations. That means 50 organizations will have better data capacity, have the ability to make data-driven decisions and increase their impact in the world.
  • We want to engage and mobilize 5,000 data scientists to lend their talents in their spare time to pro bono projects. That’s a mind-blowing $15 million contribution of professional services to social sector organizations.
  • We want to have volunteer-led chapters in 15 cities in the next two years. These chapters will spearhead project work in their communities and provide real-time feedback to help us improve our model of engaging with social sector organizations.
  • And finally, we are going to pilot our first in-house data science team. At the 10th Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting DataKind committed to building an in-house, six-person team of expert data scientists to tackle high-impact problems in the social sector. Knight Foundation has agreed to be our first “client,” laying the groundwork for that exciting initiative.

We’ve come a long way since 2011 thanks to the talent of our data science volunteers, the expertise of our social sector partners and the ongoing support of committed funders such as Knight Foundation. While the challenges the world faces are complex and daunting, data science has the potential to uncover entirely new solutions. The main thing we’ve learned is that using data science for social good is about something much more powerful than data; it’s about people. Through our suite of programs, we have been successfully bringing together talented changemakers from the data science and social sectors who would normally not get to work together and enabling them to collaborate like never before. Thanks to the continued support from Knight, we look forward to scaling our impact and taking our work to the next level.